Just went to hear Dan Wakefield talk on his new book, The Hijacking of Jesus: How the Religious Right Distorts Christianity and Promotes Prejudice and Hate. I had to arrive late to the talk because I was meeting with a wedding couple, but what I heard was fascinating. One small sample: Dan Wakefield attended a worship service at one of the big evangelical mega-churches. He said he found “nothing offensive” about the sermon or most of the worship service — until it came to be time for communion. Then the minister said, “Normally we like everyone to participate in every part of the worship service, but not when it comes to communion.” Only those who had been “born-again” were allowed to participate, and then the minister told a story about someone who had not been born again but had taken communion, and then (drumroll please) died. Dan Wakefield reported that the minister finished the story by adding, “Graveyards are filled with those who took communion without being born again.”
Another small excerpt from the talk: the religious right group who call themselves “dispensationalists” believe in different “dispensations” during different historical eras. In practice, this means that in certain historical eras, parts of the Bible may be (should be) ignored. In the current historical era, they tell us to ignore the “Sermon on the Mount” — you know, where Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Dan Wakefield also told us about the progressive evangelicals, and he told us that just recently progressive evangelicals like Jim Wallis have split from the main body of evangelical Christians in the United States, the National Evangelical Association, to form a new evangelical group called “Red Letter Christians.” They call themselves “Red Letter Christians” because in many Bibles, the words of Jesus are printed in red. They say they would like to get back to those teachings of Jesus — you know, teachings like “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
During the question and answer period, I asked Dan Wakefield if his research for this book had changed his own religious or devotional life. Yes, he said. He found himself going back to re-read parts of the Bible that he hadn’t looked at in years, particularly the words of Jesus. And he also found himself attracted to the passion of evangelical Christianity. Although he himself is a liberal Christian (who has belonged to both Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ churches), he said that much of mainline Protestant Christianity is not longer exactly passionate about religion. He also mentioned his attraction to the emergent church — and since he must be getting close to 70 now, this shows that the emergent church is not just for twenty-somethings.
He pointed out that during the Civil Rights era, white northern mainline Prostestants could go down South and participate in passionate worship services led by Martin Luther King and others, worship where you sang and prayed filled with emotion — but, says Dan Wakefield with dry sarcasm, this was somehow acceptable because these worship services were in the South and led by this charismatic African American man; and once they got back north, it was back to the usual.
Once I read the book, perhaps I’ll have some more to say about it. In the mean time, it’s worth buying the book just for the title alone. It will be displayed prominently in my office at church, I can assure you.
Dan Wakefield will be speaking on his new book on April 27, 7 p.m. at First and Second Church, Boston. For the rest of his schedule: link.